Friday, January 19, 2007

Sylvia Plath, "The Times are Tidy"

Unlucky the hero born
In this province of the stuck record
Where the most watchful cooks go jobless
And the mayor's rotisserie turns
Round of its own accord.

There's no career in the venture
Of riding against the lizard,
Himself withered these latter-days
To leaf-size from lack of action:
History's beaten the hazard.

The last crone got burnt up
More than eight decades back
With the love-hot herb, the talking cat,
But the children are better for it,
The cow milks cream an inch thick.


I'm writing as a guest -- not only to The Poetic Quotidian but in many ways to poetry itself ('up the novel!' says this prose girl). I own Sylvia Plath's collected works (I nearly wrote 'woks', which would actually be a far more impressive and unique Plath collection to own) but never spend extended time reading poem after poem. I dip infrequently and see what's to be found. The title of this one caught me first, and the rest of the poem mirrors its timeless and yet neatly specific feel: Reading it gave me whiffs of the Salem witch trials, Guantanamo Bay, a nameless fairy-tale kingdom, the unemployment line in Los Angeles ... Her line breaks are punchy without feeling contrived, especially in the first stanza. Her imagery throughout is vivid without being specific -- rich, sensual moments (rotisserie, leaf-size lizard, cream, love-hot herb) could be allegories for any number of things, or nothing. Whether or not the poem is read as political (the ennui of a would-be revolutionary?) it has a deftness and obliqueness that appeals more than anything with a finer point on it. The blunted references and pictorial sensibility remind me a lot of Wallace Stevens' "The Emperor of Ice-cream". Both poems share a compactness and confidence that hit hard and bolt-clear.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Elizabeth Bishop, "The Shampoo"

The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend
as long on us,
you've been, dear friend,
precipitate and pragmatical;
and look what happens. For Time is
nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair
in bright formation
are flocking where,
so straight, so soon?
-- Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon.

~from A Cold Spring, 1955

This is, I guess, the first guest post of The Poetic Quotidian (while TPQ roams Egypt); you can usually find me over at A Room Full of Books. I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that I've picked an Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) poem. I have a particular fondness for this one, because it displays a more open, less complicated affection than her other love poems. It has other Bishop hallmarks, like the way she makes rhyme and formal structure seem so easy, and the way the symbols echo to each other: "shocks" is a word usually used to describe hair, but it's used instead for lichens. The pair of "precipitate and pragmatical" is wonderful, too--opposite meanings, similar sounds. What I like most, though, I have to say, is the idea: time can't be stopped, and death can't be averted, but a simple act of physical affection can stave them off for a moment. Those are just my thoughts, of course. There's probably more I could say, but I'll keep it to a paragraph here.